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( 1961 )

» The Art of the Enemy (1989 )
» A Kafka-paradigma (1993)
» Cold (2001 )
» Spoken Language (2006)
» Dear Unknown (2009)


1961 born in Budapest; grows up in Érdliget and Budaörs
1990 moves to Budapest, attends Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, studies Hungarian; free-lance writer

1986 Kilencek Prize
1988 Prize of Excellence awarded by the Szépirodalmi Publishing House
1988 KISZ Prize
1989 Zsigmond Móricz Literary Grant
1989 Prize for the Literature of the Future
1990 Prize of Excellence of the Holnap Publishing House
1994 Soros Grant
1994 Antal Hidas Prize
1995 Graves Prizes
1997 Tibor Déry Prize
1997 Attila József Prize
2001 Zoltán Zelk Prize
2002 János Arany Grant
2002 Palatinus Prize
2004 JAK Prize for Poetry
2006 Székely Bicska (Transylvanian Pocket Knife) Order
2007 Palládium Prize
2007 Babérkoszorú (Laurels) Prize

The Art of the Enemy

“He took me to the third party, and I had the following plan: I will dance alone, wild and clumsy, and if someone, an ugly man approaches me, if he even dares to approach me: I will spit on him! Yes. Because if everyone is my enemy, then let them, at least, hate me.” The novel, written with the passionate intensity of a poetic text, is in fact an “objective vision” that deploys nymphs and impotent gods, fanatics, lunatics, suicidal souls, artists and secretive filmmakers. The story has an episodic structure: the narrator is a young woman, who leads her friend—and the reader—through the scenes of her life, presenting the ‘rococo’ Budapest of the age in which each man and woman seems to be a character from a movie of the Antonioni school. With a wild passion, they are looking for the secret of eternal life, only to refute it at the end. Pantomimed tennis, self-torturing love, the feeling of importance and superfluity: the novel is similar to Péter Hajnóczy’s great work, A halál kilovagolt Perzsiából (Death Rode out of Persia), in that it gives an accurate impression of the atmosphere of an age.

A Kafka-paradigma

This collection of essays written together with another important poet, István Vörös, includes a dialogue on the devil, analyses of the underground art of the Eighties in Budapest and many essays of great importance on the generation of poets and writers coming to the fore during that time (the contemporaries of the authors), most of whom have become by now the most influential artists of our day.


This slim collection of poems shows the power of the author to write memorable, highly poetic texts that are not always easily understood. The lines of Kemény’s poems often ring like unknown truths or proverbs, the drifting images linked by a secret logic resembling the logic of dreams or free association. Kemény dislikes great gestures and piercing irony; he describes places and happenings with a great emotional intensity, but with a style that is as quiet, cutting and precise as a scalpel. The poet is not a prophet, only a writer registering man’s hopeless position in the universe.

Spoken Language

76 pages A mature man takes stock of his life, preparing a historical and existential balance sheet. The central topic of the volume is Death. In the title poem, Kemény carries on a conversation with the figure of Death with an easy lyricism, contemplative ordinary speech. The poems function as a single story: a man who has made his name surveys his family, his work and life. He manages to get as far as the myth of Cain but then flees from the grip of Death. Chance findings of a single glove signal both the starting and end-points for the writing. Here we have a major poet pronouncing modestly and self-confidently, affirmatively and sceptically: So I m standing here now, and I know what I know, and as readers we can safely say: this poet who s standing here knows a great deal. -István Margócsy, Élet és Irodalom Vulnerable honesty and self-irony, humour and melancholy..." - Győző Ferencz, Népszabadság

Dear Unknown

István Kemény (b. 1961), a poet of quite some weight, has brought considerable integrity and care, as well as sheer diligence, to bear in the writing of his novel Dear Unknown. A high degree of personal engagement is in any case evident in its pages. The Unknown of the title in fact signifies the unknown life and unknown world with which the main protagonist, young Tamás Krizán, would like to gain acquaintance. To that extent Dear Unknown is an adventure story, a tale about an adolescent boy’s discovery of the world. That whole process is recalled by the narrator, Tamás himself, and in doing so Hungary’s history over the last 40-50 years, and most particularly the two decades from the Sixties until the Eighties, is unfolded. The narrator’s standpoint, as an adult looking back on his childhood, is especially suited for evaluating life and the sometimes contradictory mundane realities of those times with a present-day head. In so doing, he perpetuates memories of his family but also settles accounts with them. The novel is leavened by extracts from diaries, letters, poems and all manner of other texts; the narrator’s consciousness is defined by a literary mode of life, a record of culture. A graphic metaphor for this is the library where the protagonist had a job as a young man and, even more to the point, practically lived and breathed. It is from here that any number of stories start out, any number of discoveries can be dated. The narrator of every autobiography has the hidden (or even not so hidden) goal of being able to come face to face with himself (or herself), as with a dear familiar, a known entity. To do that, though, it is necessary to discover bad humour and melancholy as well. The prose of the novel has been composed by the poet Kemény, which has several consequences. For one thing, the text might be called lyrical, being enriched by profuse, inventive little passages, and the lyricist’s point of view is certainly evident in the composition, structure and proportions of the novel. “Everything is true, including of course the opposite, but mainly everything”—so runs the motto of the book. At its best, István Kemény’s novel manages to map out that “mainly everything”. **

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